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Social Media, Culture, and Marketing: Chelsea Matthews, A Digital Shape Shifter

If Academy of Art University preaches anything to its students, it’s that packaging matters. It contradicts the “looks aren’t everything” proverb, but it’s a salient truth—looks can be just as important as content.

Image Source: Photo courtesy of Chelsea Matthews

As media evolves, creative industries are growing more finicky, and design and content alone are no longer enough to reach success. Since the oversaturation of the digital atmosphere, consumers have become skeptical, if not totally immune, to conventional marketing tactics. It’s detachment amid total connection ­- a phenomenon that’s prompted media generators to reevaluate how they approach social media.

Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are today’s ultimate communication tools. The crux of the problem is not the apps themselves, but the way they are used. The mere notion of connection is banal, and churning out contrived images and gimmicky sentiments is ineffectual. In order to stir interest, consumers need genuine engagement—after all, consumers are people, and people crave interaction.

Having recognized this shift in consumer attitude and the need for authenticity in the industry, Chelsea Matthews, a part-time instructor at the recently launched Academy of Art University Social Media Media, took it upon herself to re-imagine a new breed of marketing.

Thus came the birth of Matte Black, a culture-marketing firm based in Los Angeles and London that specializes in building honest, unaffected brand-consumer engagement.

Matte Black works with lifestyle companies like TOMS, OPI, L’Agence, and G-Star to develop brand cultures that emphasize narrative, experience, and community. In tandem to launching Matte Black, Matthews also created the Shape Shift report, a digital culture and trend publication, and Social Derby, a one-day social media workshop held in Los Angeles, New York, and Toronto.

In her new course at the Academy PRO/LA 317: Social Media Management, students will master the fundamental tools, practices, and strategies of social media, and learn how to effectively implement them in personal and professional applications. By lending her media expertise and marketing acumen, Matthews will teach students how to use digital channels as tools (rather than toys), and how to make the most out of their online presences.

Image Source: Chelsea Matthews
Image Source: Photo courtesy of Chelsea Matthews

Fashion School Daily: You have years of experience in the fashion industry. How did you get into fashion and marketing?

Chelsea Matthews: I actually started in offline events and experiential marketing. I interned for a small events company in San Diego that hosted local shopping events, and that spawned a series of jobs into the industry.

FSD: You founded Matte Black in 2013. What prompted you to launch your own culture-marketing firm? 

CM: Honestly, it was just a matter of time! Both my parents are entrepreneurs, so in some ways it’s in my DNA. I knew it was really about the time and place, and building strong connections and relationships, so I made sure to nurture those even through my other post-college jobs until I started my business.

FSD: Is there a reason why you chose to set up shop in L.A. and London? You’ve also worked in New York and San Francisco ­- how do these regional sensibilities differ from one another? 

CM: There is so much optimism and opportunity in Los Angeles! If I look back 6+ years ago when I was starting my first business, it really came down to the fact that Los Angeles was an affordable place to start a business. Rents weren’t too high, overhead was minimal, and there were a lot of great ways to connect and network with industry professionals—so I felt I could achieve a level of authenticity from the start by merely having my own office space.

The expansion to London over New York was a hard one, but it ultimately came down to treading waters, per se, in another country. I found that many of our clients and projects in New York had no preference of us being local. The majority of what we do only requires internet access, a laptop and a cell phone, so it’s easy for us to be just about anywhere. I lived in London when I was 23, and my husband is British, so it felt natural to try to crack their code by opening up shop in the U.K.

FSD: Your firm is all about honest, holistic connections. Can you elaborate on this philosophy? Why is consumer action just as imperative as consumer reaction?

CM: This plays into how we look to partner with our clients and how we look to position our clients to their consumers. We seek to partner with the companies we align with. As such, we don’t do things like clock hours, or say ‘yes’ when we feel pretty confident about a ‘no’. It’s about always having the client’s best interest at heart and treating their companies like they are our own.

With consumers, it’s about speaking their language—not marketing speak, their speak. The brands that are successfully reaching millennial audiences are doing so by being honest and transparent. Take Everlane; from day one, they opened their doors to their consumer base with a transparent pricing model, and they’ve been really successful with it. Their team has weekly chats on Snapchat, and they regularly share imagery of what’s happening on the inside of their offices to their consumers. The new consumer audiences are hungry for this type of transparency and access!

FSD: In conjunction with Matte Black, you also started a free digital trend publication, Shape Shift Report. What inspired you to create your own magazine? 

CM: The Shape Shift Report actually started as an internal document for our clients, but I always intended to open it up to a wider audience. Our passion for good design and great content is really the basis for our ‘why,’ but it also had to do with the fact that the available information on trends was quite lofty. We wanted to create something that we gave away for free and that would ultimately help build our credibility as an agency—it’s sort of a ‘practice what you preach’ scenario.

AH: Marketing, especially in the digital era, is an ever-changing tapestry. How has the rise of technology and social media changed the marketing methodologies? Is it easier or harder now to attract and engage consumers?

CM: Honestly, it’s both easier and harder. It’s easier to target people for much less money, but at the same time, the digital atmosphere is cluttered and difficult to crack. Consumers are that much more hesitant to trust brands, so you really have to prove your value in a way that isn’t just about the features or the benefits—it’s about the lifestyle. Technology has forced brands to care more about their own story and visual direction.

Image Source: Photo courtesy of Chelsea Matthews
Image Source: Photo courtesy of Chelsea Matthews

FSD: Can you tell us about your new Social Media Management course? How will students benefit from taking your course?

CM: Ultimately, the course is centered around learning the fundamental tools, insights and strategies one will need to apply on a daily basis in a Community Manager role. My hope is that any student interested in exploring a role in social media will acquire a strong grasp on the types of campaigns and tactics needed for success, as well as becoming versed in key terminology, tools and practices.

They didn’t teach social media when I was in school. Everything was self-taught, so from my perspective, this would have been the ultimate opportunity to set me off on the right foot.

FSD: Besides Instagram, what digital platforms are reshaping the industry? 

CM: 1000% Snapchat and Facebook Live Video (or Periscope) are changing our industry. People are hungry for raw and real time!

FSD: Do you have a favorite social media platform? If so, why?

CM: Snapchat—I find it so entertaining, almost like watching TV. Plus, their filters are a time-suck!

FSD: What advice would you give to students who are in the process of cultivating their own brand/image and want to stand out from the rest?

CM: Intern! Get as much experience as you can before you embark on your own. Prepare to be humbled. Just because you know how to run your own social media accounts doesn’t mean you’ll be able to for a brand or company.

Think smart when it comes to designing your resume. If you’re applying to a creative company that’s design minded, your resume needs to be visually appealing.

Sell your character in the body of your introductory email. As someone who is constantly hiring people in the field, I look for strong writing skills and a sense of who the person is and why they might fit into our culture, even before I look at their resumes. Essentially, do your research!